Stabilization Levels: Other Stabilization Levels

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Generally speaking, the literature on the timing of stabilization measures reflects two opposing viewpoints—one viewpoint is that immediate climate controls are unnecessary or not cost-justified; the other viewpoint finds that immediate climate controls are cost-justified or justified as insurance against extreme downside risk.  Positions calling for delaying the imposition of climate stabilization measures emphasize the net present value of any benefits from immediate climate control policies to argue that it is not cost-justified to impose significant climate controls presently or in the near future.  Positions calling for immediate climate controls tend to critique the discount rate used to support delayed imposition arguments, as well as the use of a discount rate itself (since the use of the discount rate must necessarily include picking a terminal year, which then undervalues the benefits of climate stabilization that accrue thereafter).  Additionally, immediate climate control papers argue that the risk of catastrophic climate change is significant enough to warrant climate controls either in the present or in the near future.  IPCC analyses specifically note the increased probability of complying with the 2* warming limit.  Similarly, immediate climate control might be necessary to keep open the possibility of attaining some of the lower stabilization level goals.  Alternatively, immediate climate control may be supported by arguments that technological learning may be accelerated by immediate investments in environmental technology R&D such that the return on R&D investments is compounded and thereby justified.  The opposing argument is that adaptation may lessen the harm from climate change, thereby lessening the benefits from climate stabilization policies.

            There are proposals that fall outside of the two viewpoints described above.  These proposals seek to effectively defer emissions into the future, when available technologies will have reduced anthropogenic emissions to a climate-friendly level.  One idea is for deep-sea CO2 sequestration.  The idea is that the CO2 will remain sequestered until some future “evasion” point, at which time we will be better prepared to deal with the CO2 that is released from the ocean.

            Similar proposals would allow for permanent carbon sequestration.  Some of these proposals express reservations about allowing for unlimited emissions with the idea of later switching to carbon sequestration technologies.  They fear that the technology cannot be implemented at a rate and scale sufficient to prevent deleterious effects from anthropogenic emissions.  Others expressly advocate using carbon sequestration later, after the resolution of uncertainty.  Some advocate the middle ground, using carbon sequestration now as a “brake” while technology and other changes are implemented.

            Regional effects influence the analysis as well.  Proponents of immediate climate controls emphasize that developing countries may be prevented from developing if developed countries do not curtail their emissions in the near term.  Industrial leakage may be a problem if some regions delay climate stabilization policies while other regions do not.

            Even if immediate action is required, the type of action to undertake is still unresolved.  Some proposals advocate near term or immediate climate controls; others emphasize R&D investment.

            Some authors emphasize intergenerational fairness.  It is unfair, they assert, to pass along the costs to another individual, not yet born.  Cost-benefit analyses utilize net present value, and so underestimate the costs of delay and the benefits of implementing climate control policies now or in the near term.  They find that utilitarian and precautionary principle analyses support more immediate climate control policies.